Friday, June 24, 2022
It's Friday, June 24, 2022.
I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
The U.S. Hits a New Low: Gallup Reports Number of Americans Who Believe in God Has Dropped to Lowest Number Ever
Well, this has been a pretty incredible week already. We've talked about the Supreme Court more than once. We've talked about the Gallup poll more than once, most importantly, on the issue of abortion, but now we're turning to an even more important issue. And this is beyond any kind of competence of the Supreme Court.
We're talking about a new Gallup poll on American belief in God. The headline coming from Gallup this week is this, "Belief in God, in United States, Dips to 81%," the next three words, "a New Low." Now, we're concerned about this. Of course, we're concerned about the number, but we're more concerned about the actual Americans. This is, after all, a survey undertaken of those in the United States. Gallup has done this study coming back, as it is done year after year, to tell us that the vast majority of Americans believe in God, some kind of God, something, or someone may call God, but the number is actually decreasing.
Now we're concerned about this for numerous reasons. Most importantly, we're concerned for the eternal destiny of our neighbor Americans. We understand that it's not just belief in God, by the way, that is required for salvation, it is trust and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. It is a response to the gospel of Jesus Christ. But culturally speaking, politically speaking, as a matter of fact, speaking about the entire society, it matters whether or not that society is comprised of and composed of those who actually believe in God. The society that believes in God, in terms of majority opinion, and let's just state the obvious, is going to be very different than a society in which a majority of persons believe in no God at all.
Now, the headline news coming from Gallup tells us that this is a new low. And as a matter of fact, it is. Over the course of the last several decades, the percentage of Americans who at least tell Gallup they believe in God, it has stood steady at about 90% or more than 90%. In 2017, it went down just under 90%. And now we're looking at 81%. Now that's pretty significant.
It's significant in two ways. Number one, just as a number, but it's also significant in the time period. We're looking at change on the most fundamental question that we can understand, that the human mind can conceive, we're talking about change in one's society that's happening pretty fast. Now, as I say, looking at these polls, there are a couple of things we always need to keep in mind. This is a representative sample. That's all Gallup is claiming. And so even as we are told that 81% believe in God, it means 81% of what we are assured is a representative sample that was contacted by Gallup and responded to Gallup.
The second thing we need to understand is people have a certain poll response bias. We know that, because they, frankly, will tell us that in one way or another. Often Americans answer questions from surveys or pollsters, the way they think someone might want them to answer. Now, of course, they're those who would play with the answer, tease with the answer, but basically we're looking at the fact that Americans answered, according to this pattern, and that does tell us something.
One of the most important things it tells us is that what we are witnessing is the continued movement of American society in a more secular direction. The sociological principle here is the process of secularization. It is the process by which a civilization, a society, a country in this case, becomes less and less religious. Specifically, it means that the theological claims have become less and less binding.
Now, just something to keep in mind is that the word religion in its actual root means binding, because after all, if there is a God, then it's binding upon us, not only to know him, but to obey him. As we often just have to say, as a matter of principle, it's just important for us to recognize this doesn't tell us anything about the existence of God. It just tells us something about the people responding to the poll.
But that is important, isn't it? Because we are looking at the fact that an increasing number of our neighbors, at least say, they do not believe in God. Now, Christians look at this and we understand something looking backward. Looking backward, evidently a lot of people said they believed in God, but their lives gave absolutely no evidence of it whatsoever. It's a very different question, isn't it? If you ask, do you believe in God? Or do you have a personal faith commitment to Christ? Do you have a personal belief in God that is binding upon you? Do you operate from a theistic, a religious, a Christian worldview? Those are very different questions.
There's more important information buried in this data. For one thing, it turns out that virtually all of the shift, almost all of it, in a more secular direction, is coming from younger Americans and more liberal Americans. Now thinking in worldview terms that shouldn't surprise us in the least. Number one, if you are having a process of secularization in the society, if the society is moving more secular, almost by definition, that's going to show up first among younger people. Because, after all, they are forming their opinions in the context of a culture, the more secular of the culture, well, you can do the math.
The second thing we need to understand is that when we are told that a great deal of this increase is coming from those who identify as liberal, and that means politically liberal. Well, we need to understand that the very idea of liberation, if taken to its extreme, actually means being liberated from anything that might bind you. And that means religion in any form. That's why liberal religion is increasingly something of an oxymoron, that is to say, it's something of a contradiction. It doesn't, basically, much exist these days, certainly in terms of say, people who show up at a liberal church. The fact is they don't show up.
But the other thing to note is that as we are thinking about liberalism and religion, in this sense, there are those who simply have come to terms with the fact that if indeed there is a God, and if he has revealed himself in his word, which there is, and which he has, then that word is binding upon us. And that binding word is, let's just state the obvious, extremely limiting as a factor when it comes to modern sexual expression, gender identities, gender theories, sexual theories, and all the rest. And so if you're going to have the sexual revolution, and especially if you're going to be an enthusiast at full blast, again, more liberal, more young, then you're going to have to distance yourself from any form of biblical religion.
And you might say, "Well, it doesn't particularly stipulate the God of the Bible in this survey." No, but the God, even of the popular imagination, among most Americans, is the God of the Bible, the God in whom Americans either believe or disbelief.
The last thing I'm going to say about this survey is that it reveals a lot of theological confusion. And we shouldn't be surprised by that, because we are living in an age of theological confusion. And the fact is that people who don't go to church, just to give one example, or don't go to a church where biblical preaching is the norm, if they're not growing up in Christian families that are inculcating the Christian faith in their children, then we shouldn't be surprised their theology is, well, weird, inconsistent, unbiblical, for that matter, even heretical.
But viewed across other Western nations, other modern industrialized nations, the odd thing about the United States is that so many people still say they believe in God. We're talking about a multiple of what is found in many other Western nations. And it shows us we have a lot of work to do. Not only when we look at the numbers writ large across our country, but probably when we look across the driveway at the neighbors next door.
Seismic Political and Theological Change in New York City as City’s Congressional Delegation is Down to Last Jewish House Member, Running in a Tight Democratic Party Primary
But next, as we speak about religious change in the United States, sometimes an issue just pops up that tells us something really big is going on. Now, what are we talking about? The front page of The New York Times. What's the headline we're talking about? "Jewish political clout at risk in changing New York City." So it turns out that the first Jewish member of Congress was elected from within New York City in 1851, 1851.
Now, keep in mind a couple of other things. Arguably, New York City is the largest Jewish city in the world, in the old world, in the new world, in the world, period. At one point, the Jewish population of the New York area was about two million. There are a lot of reasons for that. For one thing, you have the horrifying reason that so much of Europe, basically, as a result of antisemitism and most particularly of the Holocaust against the Jews undertaken by the Nazis in World War II, the fact is that the Jewish population in Europe was largely, tragically, murderously decimated.
But you also had repeated waves of Jewish immigration into the United States. And that was true all the way back to the very beginning, where at least some of the Jewish people found their way to New Amsterdam, when it was a Dutch colony. But furthermore, you're looking at the 19th and 20th century waves of Jewish immigration that brought an incredible number, indeed, millions of European Jewish people to the United States. And the Jewish people tended to concentrate in certain localities, where they could build basically something like a Jewish civilization. And that meant Jewish restaurants, Jewish bakeries, not only synagogues, but Jewish schools, Jewish neighborhoods.
And when it came to the congressional delegation that was sent to Congress by the New York City area, here's the thing, at one point, about half of all of those members of Congress were identified as Jewish,. But now the Jewish contingent, in terms of the congressional delegation from New York is down to one. And that one Congressman is now nearing the end of his career. And with redistricting, putting him over against another veteran democratic, long term member of Congress, the fact is, in short order, there may be no Jewish members of Congress from New York City. That is a political and a theological change that really is absolutely seismic.
Nicholas Fandos, reporting for The Times, tells us, "For a century, New York has been the center of Jewish political power in the United States, so much so that is recently as the 1990s, Jewish lawmakers made up roughly half of New York city's delegation to the House of Representatives. Now that number is down to representative Jerrold Nadler. He has been serving for decades in the United States House. He was raised within an Orthodox Jewish household. He identifies very clearly with Judaism, and he is now in a very difficult race with another Democrat, another veteran Democrat. By the August primary in New York, we will find out whether or not the Jewish member of Congress, Jerrold Nadler, will win the democratic nomination, or if it will go to that other member of Congress, Carolyn Maloney."
By the way, both of them serve as chairs of important house committees. This is a very unusual head-to-head race between two prominent Democrats and it was brought about by redistricting. But one of the big stories here is the rise and fall of Jewish political influence in New York. And The Times tells us, "The rise and fall of Jewish influence is a clear, familiar arc in a city that has absorbed waves of immigrants who grew in numbers, economic power, and eventually political stature only to be supplanted by those who followed." The Times says, "It happened to the Dutch, English, Germans, Irish, and Italians, and now to New York's Jews, who at their peak in the 1950s accounted for a quarter or more of the city's total population, and gained footholds at all levels of government."
Couple of issues, since then, number one, there has been a Jewish outflow of population from New York to other areas. The second thing is that there has been an enormous influx of those who have come with very different identities. This would include Hispanics, Latinos, and Asian American, as well as a growing African American population, or at least growing in percentage. Now the democratic leader of the United States Senate Chuck Schumer is also from the New York area, and he is also identified with Judaism. But the big news here is that even in the House of Representatives, New York's delegation had been about half Jewish, it may have no Jewish member at all within just a matter of weeks.
Something else to think about here, is that the Jewish vote in the United States has trended liberal since the midpoint of the 20th century. Indeed, some could argue, beginning even earlier. There's been a very strong identity between the democratic party and Jewish citizens. Now, there are some really interesting aspects to this. Number one, many people in Orthodox Judaism, which is the most conservative Judaism, they're not very politically engaged and in some situations don't vote. And so the Jewish vote tends towards the more secular and the more liberal.
Something else to note here, is that the Democratic Party increasingly moving to the left, and increasingly with very urgent minority groups clamoring for attention and identity politics. There has been a move towards antisemitism, and in particular anti-Israel positions on the part of the Democratic Party. And that is, at least in part, alienating some Jewish voters and Jewish candidates from their own voting constituency.
But wrapping this up for today, there's something else here that's important for all of us thinking about the theological composition of the United States. And this is the link with the first big story we talked about today, that Gallup Poll, and that is this, if you go back to the midpoint of the 20th century, the most important sociologist of religion in the United States was a man by the name of Will Herberg.
He himself was Jewish. He was a member of the faculty at Drew University in New Jersey, near New York City. And from that position, he wrote one of the most influential books of the 20th century on American religion. The title basically tells you everything. The title of his book was this Protestant, Catholic, Jew. The point is, that basically described almost every American at the midpoint of the 20th century. There were three, and basically only three categories, Protestant, Catholic, and Jew. And Will Herberg's point was that they shared a common biblical and theistic commitment that bound us together morally, and in many other principles, in such a way that a part of the strength of the entire American experiment was based upon the unity in those three words, Protestant, Catholic and Jew.
But, of course, there has been a great deal of change in the United States because now you have to look at rising numbers of secular Americans and influx of Americans hold to any number, indeed, all number of diverse religious belief systems. And you're also just looking at the fact that, indeed, when you look at the religious establishment, say, of the 1950s, Protestant or Catholic or Jewish, that establishment has largely disappeared.
So as we're thinking about change in the United States, it's not just in the congressional delegation from New York, it's in the entire nation. Maybe not with equal obviousness, but nonetheless equally real.
What a Revolutionary Thought — A Catholic Bishop Denies School’s Right to Call Itself Catholic Over Moral and Theological Dispute
But finally, before turning to questions, another related story, and this has to do with a Bishop in a Catholic diocese, telling a formerly Catholic school that if it is going to enthusiastically join and advertise the LGBTQ Revolution, it can't call itself a Catholic school. In this case, we're talking about a school that had been a Catholic boy's school in Massachusetts. But Catholic Bishop Robert McManus has said that the school cannot now call itself Catholic, because it has been flying flags for LGBTQ Revolution, for Gay Pride, and all the rest, as well as Black Lives Matter flags.
Now, he is not making a point, when it comes to Black Lives Matter, about race. This is a school that includes many ethnic students of several ethnicities in the student body. No, his point is that the Black Lives Matter movement and the Gay Pride flag are flying together because of a common statement. And that common statement is, at least in part, a repudiation of Catholic doctrine. Now, as you're thinking about Black Lives Matter, just remember very quickly that movement was started not by Black Christian clergymen, it was started by women who declared themselves queer, and declared themselves at war with biblical Christianity.
The school is known now as The Nativity School of Worcester, and Bishop McManus, as The Washington Post tells us, "Issued a severe ruling, the tuition free middle school, which serves boys facing economic hardship can no longer identify itself as Catholic because the flags are inconsistent with Catholic teaching." The bishop went on to say, "The flying of these flags in front of a Catholic school sends a mixed, confusing, and scandalous message to the public about the church's stance on these important moral and social issues. Despite my insistence," said the bishop, "that the school administration remove these flags, because of the confusion and the properly theological scandal they do and can promote, they refuse to do so."
So why am I raising this issue today? Because we need more evangelical Christians with the kind of determination and conviction demonstrated by this Catholic Bishop, when it comes to telling a Catholic school, they must take the name Catholic off their school, because they are not upholding Catholic doctrine and moral teaching. It also tells us a great deal that the leadership of this school, when forced to choose between the flags and the bishop, chose the flags.
As you know, we see this particular kind of challenge coming to all religious groups. When it comes to our schools, we're going to have to decide, do we expect them to be legitimately evangelical, clearly Christian in their commitments or not? And if not, do we let them keep the name?
Can Women Be Deacons? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing
But next we're going to shift to questions from the Mailbox.
I always appreciate all the questions sent in, but particularly those sent in by young people. A 15-year-old wrote in, and by the way, she tells us her older sister is coming to Boyce in the fall, that's great news. She says, she's been listening to The Briefing with her dad for years now, but she looked at Romans 16:1, where the apostle Paul refers to Phoebe as a servant of the church. She goes on to say, she was curious about that, and so she looked it up and it appears to be a word which is either the same or very similar to deacon, diakonos in the Greek.
Thus, she asked a question, how are we to understand that? My favorite line in this email, by the way, coming from a 15-year-old listener, begins with, "When I checked the Greek Bible, the Greek New Testament." Now, I'm just thankful for one 15-year-old on planet Earth, who knows to look at the Greek New Testament and understands why it matters. But nonetheless, she points to the fact that this is the word that is often translated as deacon.
Well, let me just fast forward, Sydney, to say, you are absolutely right, because you write a great deal in this question, when you say that the word deacon, as found in the Greek New Testament, and, of course, I use the English word here from the Greek. It refers to someone who is a helper in the church, and yet is set aside as a helper, but we're not talking about a presbyter. We're not talking about an elder. We're not talking about a Bishop. We're not talking about one who has teaching or ruling responsibility. We're talking about someone who is helping the church in a particular way.
And that probably means, in the New Testament context, demonstrating and exercising a particular spiritual gift on behalf of the congregation. It's a servant role. Now the bottom line question that Sydney's asking is this, "Is there a reason why many conservative churches are averse to a woman in this role? Do you agree with this reason?"
You know, I have to say, honestly, I think this is up to the local church, because there are open questions as to whether, in the case of Phoebe, it should be understood to be deacon in the same sense a man's a deacon or a deaconess. Deaconess in a similar sense, is this the same thing? Is it a similar thing? I don't think that's a question upon which New Testament orthodoxy rests. I think that's something that local churches can come to determine on their own as they struggle with Scripture and seek to be faithful.
But when you think about conservative churches, the big issue here is holding to a complementarianism that makes clear that the teaching and ruling eldership is indeed restricted to men. The preaching and teaching office is restricted to men, and by the way, not to all men, but to those particular men who are qualified by Scripture and set apart by the church.
But before leaving this question, I have to add one other complication, and that is the complication of churches that are confused on this issue. And so even some of the churches I grew up in had deacons that were invested with a spiritual authority that I think was unbiblical. And so that's a part of the confusion here.
When you say, can, for instance, a woman serve as a deacon? It all depends on who a deacon is and what a deacon does. Every church should do exactly what, Sydney, you did here that is turn to the scripture and seek to be ruthlessly, rigorously, unhesitantly scriptural. But there are some churches in which the word deacon and the office of deacon has, frankly, morphed into something else.
So if nothing else, this particular question, coming from a 15-year-old reminds us, it is the duty of every church to be ordered according to scripture in every way. And that sometimes means struggling with some difficult questions, including questions related to deacons. But that's no excuse for just confusing the issue or from having a lack of courage to address it.
What Issues are the Most Important to Think about as a Christian Teen Preparing to Vote? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing
But now we turn to a second question and we go one year older from 15 to 16. And this 16-year-old writes in to say that in the next presidential election, she will be old enough to vote. That's good news. She goes on to ask, "What issues are the most important to think about as a Christian teen when preparing to vote?" Well to you, I simply want to say, God bless you. And thank you for being concerned to vote as a Christian, more than anything else.
And I just want to say that by the time we get to the election, you're not going to have to worry about issue A or B or C alone, because I will make an ironclad prediction here. I don't mean a word of prophecy, but this is a prediction I'm absolutely certain is going to be true. By the time we get to the presidential election, the general election in November of 2024, there will be an entire constellation of issues that will separate the Democratic from the Republican presidential nominee.
And I think, just given the issues of the sanctity of human life, the ordering of society, the rule of law, all kinds of reasons incline me to believe that the majority of those who consider themselves Christian in the United States, are likely to vote for the candidate who upholds the sanctity of human life. Just as one issue, because it's never just a standalone issue.
It's not impossible, given the inconsistency of the human mind, but it is unlikely, to find someone who, say, is enthusiastically for the LGBTQ Revolution, but is also enthusiastically pro-life. I'm not saying it can't happen. I'm just saying, based upon how worldview works, it is extremely unlikely.
But if I have to say just one issue, then I'm going to say the issue of life, the sanctity of human life, because that's at the very beginning. But it won't be alone. It's going to be a part of a larger structure. And over the course of, say, the last 40 to 50 years in the United States, it's been really, really clear by the time we get to the election.
Now that situation gets a little more complicated, when, in the primary season, you have candidates running for the respective nominations of the Democratic and Republican party. Then you're looking at the fact that we'll have to determine what exactly separates Republican from Republican, or say Democrat from Democrat.
We'll have to wait to see how that shows up, but, frankly, I would be absolutely unable to guide those who are Democrats in terms of trying to figure out which Democrat to nominate, because by virtual definition, these days, they're all going to be very avidly pro-abortion rights. And so, for me, all the action and interest is going to take place on the Republican side, where, frankly, I'm going to be looking for the candidate with the greatest credibility to deal with these issues with the deepest conviction, as consistently, as we may hope and pray for.
Would You Explain Why Many Evangelicals Were Confused About Abortion When Roe Was Handed Down? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing
Finally, a question coming from Malachi, who in this context is a grand old man in his mid-40s, according to the email. He's looking at the fact that in the United States, before Roe v. Wade, and for that matter, in the years immediately following Roe v. Wade, it was clear that many Protestant Christians, many evangelical Christians hadn't thought through the abortion issue at all.
He's asking, "Why? What made the change?" Well, I think I can answer this pretty quickly. You're right, Roman Catholics, given Roman Catholic teaching and struggle with this issue, frankly, in other cultural contexts have prepared them to deal with this issue, when most evangelicals were unprepared.
Furthermore, the issue of abortion, as you're looking at the United States, before Roe v. Wade was really regionalized. And the very areas in which abortion was most hotly contested were the areas where you had the fewest evangelicals and the lowest evangelical proportion in the community. And so that's not an excuse, it's just to say that Roe v. Wade is hard for people, say, older than I am to understand this, but Roe v. Wade was a total shock to evangelical Christians in the United States, virtually no one saw that coming.
So Malachi, it turns out that was the wake-up call. There's no excuse for being unprepared, but that was basically where evangelical Christians were. And that showed up in some confusion, especially right after Roe v. Wade. And some evangelicals said some really regrettable things. And, yes, thankfully, most of them at least grew to regret what they had said. And working towards a consistent pro-life position took a bit of time.
But fast forward to about the year 1980, so 1973, Roe v Wade, 1980's presidential election, and least the good news is that within less than a decade, evangelicals had increasingly figured this out. Thanks again for your really good questions. They help me, I think they probably help all listeners to The Briefing.
And that's why this particular weekly facet of The Briefing is one of my favorites.
Dobbs Is Rapidly Approaching, and Our Nation is in Tumult: A Call to Christian Prayer
I want to end today in a little different way than I usually end. And that is because we are running out of time for the Supreme Court to hand down its decision in the big abortion case from Mississippi known as Dobbs. I just want to ask Christians this morning, in particular, to pray for the Supreme Court of the United States, that decision, well, the likelihood that it drops today is very high. And if not today, well, we're looking at just one more week with a limited number of days in which the court is likely to release opinions.
I also want to say that you can look around this country and see that the tensions are running very, very high. We need to pray for the justices of the Supreme Court. We need to pray for the city of Washington D.C. We need to pray for our nation. We need to pray, yes, for upholding the sanctity and dignity of human life. And I pray for a very clear reversal of Roe v. Wade. But we also need to pray for peace within the city of Washington D.C., safety for the justices of the United States Supreme Court. We need to pray for an opportunity to bear witness to the gospel of life in the midst of this controversy, which really is we know over life and death.
Let's pray for that, especially this morning.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing.
For more information, go to my website at albertmohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter by go to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to boycecollege.com.
I'll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.